Ireland captain Rory Best says he is excited to see what the next generation of players can deliver when his side take on South Africa at Newlands on Saturday afternoon.
Joe Schmidt’s side came through their final training session at the Cape Town venue without any fresh injury worries.
Ireland have been forced to field a new-look team for the first Test of this three-match series, with Best’s Ulster team-mates Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall coming into the team and Jared Payne reassigned to full-back.
They are missing a host of front-line internationals including Johnny Sexton, but Best is hoping the new faces in the dressing room will not be overawed by the prospect of taking on the Springboks away from home and urged them to take their chance.
“It’s massive for these guys, a lot of these have been in and around the squad a little bit and they wanted a chance but when certain key players are established in the squad, and playing so well, it doesn’t allow them the opportunity,” he said.
“Some of these guys now have the opportunity tomorrow and I suppose whenever you’re a young kid, I suppose it’s been a while since I was a young kid playing rugby, but all you want is an opportunity and then it’s yours, at least you then dictate what you do with it.
“I think, for me, as captain of these guys, it’s very exciting to see what this young talent can deliver.”
Best is the most experienced player in his team and played when Ireland beat the Springboks in their last meeting in Dublin in 2014 when Schmidt’s side out-smarted their opponents having matched them in the trenches.
And the hooker believes the key to today’s game will be the forward battle.
“Certainly with South Africa, they have traditionally had and still do have a really strong set-piece, the line-out and scrum, it’s definitely an area that if we’re going to compete tomorrow that we have to be somewhere near our best because we know that they are going to bring probably a different challenge that we faced during the Six Nations and, certainly, in our own club competitions,” he said.
“But I suppose the challenge to that is it’s Test rugby, so you want to be challenged against the best. Certainly from a forwards point of view, in my opinion, South Africa are one of the best in the world and we’re going to be tested tomorrow.”
Best’s opposite number Adriaan Strauss leads his country for the first time under new coach Allister Coetzee and he was calmly confident ahead of what he believes will be a “tough” opening Test.
“It’s the start of a new journey, so we definitely want to set down a marker and standard for ourselves.
“Of course the result will always be important, but it’s more about the way we want to play and the way forward,” he said.
“It’s all about decision-making, at this level that’s especially important. We need to give players options on the field, but there is also a structure in place for that.
“We first have to make the right decisions at the right time, and play into space. We want to attack, but it needs to be based on good decision-making, while identifying where that space is.
“I’m feeling quite calm. I’ll prepare as if it were any other Test, but I think it’s going to be another tough one.
“With the amount of leaders in the squad, it’s helped quite a lot, I haven’t had to do that much differently. It’s just been about ensuring everyone is on the same page with all the calls and what we want to do, and I think we’re ready now.”
SOUTH AFRICA: Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Lionel Mapoe, Damian De Allende, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Adriaan Strauss (capt), Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Julian Redelinghuys, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Warren Whiteley, Rudy Paige, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel.
Ireland: J Payne; A Trimble, R Henshaw, L Marshall, K Earls; P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, M Ross; I Henderson, D Toner; CJ Stander, J Murphy, J Heaslip
Replacements: S Cronin, F Bealham, T Furlong, U Dillane, R Ruddock, K Marmion, I Madigan, C Gilroy.